A not-for-profit company running education in Hackney, a deprived inner-London borough, has been accused of "a culture of waste" after it emerged that it spent thousands of pounds on a bunny mascot used only twice in two years.
The TES has also learned that The Learning Trust bought its staff #163;500 worth of pancake breakfasts in one morning and paid a PR agency #163;20,000 to publicise the launch of a new training centre in a campaign that garnered just one local newspaper article.
The trust took over the running of Hackney's education services in 2002, has an annual #163;112 million budget and ended the last financial year #163;26 million in the red because of pension liabilities.
But a former employee claims there was a "culture of waste" at the trust.
"It felt like being at a dot-com start-up before the bubble burst," they said. "A huge amount of money was spent on superficial things. There seemed to be no accountability whatsoever. I have never seen such waste."
The TES has learned that the trust paid a private agency #163;10,000 to design a blue bunny mascot to promote its children's centres and then had it made into a costume in October 2009 for an extra #163;3,000.
Staff joked that the "Sunny Bunny" cost so much it must have been made by Dolce amp; Gabbana. But since then it has yet to be used by a children's centre and has only made two public appearances.
The trust said a "large portion" of the cost went towards securing copyright for the bunny image, which it aimed to use "extensively" in "the next few years".
She said the trust's decision to buy staff pancake breakfasts, also in October 2009, was part of a "highly effective" strategy to promote the Family Information Service through its employees "who reach thousands of Hackney families through their work and contacts".
The TES has learned that, despite having its own in-house communications department, the trust paid a private agency #163;20,000 in July 2009 to publicise the launch of the training centre. But apart from a write-up in the council's own newspaper, the exercise only secured a single article in the Hackney Gazette.
A trust spokeswoman said the agency had been used because there was a staff shortage and its remit also included market research, web content and marketing materials.
Mark Lushington from the Hackney branch of the NUT, said: "It is insulting to people's intelligence to think that hopping around in a blue bunny costume is going to get you any of the relationships you want, apart from with other blue bunnies."
A Learning Trust spokeswoman said: "Since the trust was established in 2002, we have transformed education in Hackney. Communications and marketing has been critical to our success."